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Central High School

Girls Golf

TONY CASTRO Hernando Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:38 PM

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Hernando County celebrated its own Sweet 16 party last week.

When the dust settled after Monday's district golf action, 16 female linksters – three teams and one individual – qualified for this week's intense regional action.

The stakes are exceeding high.

Only the top two teams and top two individuals not associated with those teams will advance to the 63rd FHSAA Finals set for Oct. 30-31 in Lake County.

Last week at Pine Oaks in Marion County, Ocala-Forest dropped Springstead's Lady Eagles out of the unbeaten ranks.

The Wildcats solved SHS for the Class 2A, District 5 title, 340-367.

Forest and Springstead comprise two of the nine teams in Tuesday's 2A-Region II Tournament at the Ocala Golf Club.

The 18-hole event is expected to begin at 9:30 a.m.

Last season, Springstead finished second in the 2A-5 event behind an 18-hole 404 total.

Last week, Springstead posted what is believed to be a school record 367 total – shaving some 37 shots off last year's district total.

In the 2011 2A-II Tourney, Ponte Vedra won with a 356.

Second place, however, went to Matanzas with a 376. Should the Lady Eagles duplicate last week's total, their chances of advancing to states dramatically improve.

Setting the pace for Springstead is four-time county and two-time district champion (she finished second as a freshman), senior Megan Berube.

Berube, who placed an uncharacteristic fourth in districts last week, enters her school record fourth regional tournament.

Berube is the lone Hernando County female golfer since the millennium to advance to states (2010).

Last fall, Berube carded an 18-hole 81 in regionals. When she qualified for states in 2010, Berube fired an 18-hole 74.

As a freshman in 2009, the four-year Lady Eagle starter and three-time defending Hernando County Player of the Year carded an 87 in regionals.

Berube, who arrives averaging a county-best 39.6 per nine holes, helped guide the Lady Eagles to 30 straight dual-meet wins.

Not that Berube is a one-man show. Just the opposite, she has plenty of support.

Berube will be joined by senior Emma Betters (48.9), junior Kylie Van Meter (48.9), junior Kiki Schau (51.7) and senior Kearstin Yarbrough (60.1).

Defending Hernando County Coach of the Year Kathleen Long of Springstead did not return a call for this story.

At Central, the Lady Bears were awaiting last week's breakout performance from senior Stephanie Rodney.

Rodney, a 3 1/2-year starter (she was injured and missed most of her freshman campaign), captured her initial medalist honor by tying Lake Minneola's Katie Holt for 2A-5 individual honors with an 18-hole 73 total.

On Tuesday, Rodney arrives averaging a career-best 39.9 per nine holes and is riding a renewed sense of confidence.

Two years ago, Rodney shot a 90 in regionals. Last year, she improved to an 89. According to Central skipper Vicki Weaver, she's energized riding into regionals.

"Right now, she's sky high," smiled Coach Weaver. "We had been waiting for this (win). She did what she needed to do."

On returning to regionals, "She's familiar with the course. She likes it," described Coach Weaver. "She thought the front nine was easier than the back."

On the secret to advancing out of regionals, "She's focusing on one shot at a time. It seems a lot of the kids run out of gas across the final five holes; her goal is the same as it was during districts – take it one stroke at a time," Weaver said.

On the timing of Rodney's success, "It's a matter of maturity. She's much more competitive than she was in the past. Now, she knows she can play with the best. I'm excited because she's having so much fun doing it," Weaver said.

"I think deep down she realizes as a senior this it and is taking advantage."

Can the Sharks post back-to-back wins?

It took nearly nine seasons for the Nature Coast Lady Sharks to celebrate their initial district championship, which came last week at the nearby Rivard Golf Club in Brooksville.

Nature Coast would like nothing better than to become the first Lady Shark golf team (boys or girls) to reach states, out of the 1A-III Tournament at Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis.

Though a sense of euphoria is blended with a sense of achievement, Nature Coast skipper Cheryl Paradis cautions that Monday is a completely different ball of wax.

"The girls were so excited last week. It was a tremendous week. I hope there's some carryover into next week," admitted Coach Paradis. "But this time we're not playing on a course practically in our backyard."

On the rigors of the Black Bear, she said, "It's more of an unfamiliar course and it's a lot more difficult than Rivard. We played very relaxed last week. We have to duplicate that on Monday."

On the key to advancing to states, "We did an excellent job last week of not worrying about our opponents and what they were doing," recalled Coach Paradis. "We need to take a page from that same script this week. Let's not overanalyze this. We don't want the kids thinking too much.

"I'd rather see the girls play relaxed and just play the course," she added. "This group has been self-motivated. They interact with each other on and off the course. Their goal all season has been the same – to reach states."

Nature Coast is led by three-time All-County selection Kae Elliott.

Like Berube, Elliott is making her school-record fourth straight regional appearance. She arrives in Lake County with a blue ribbon thanks to earning medalist honors in the 1A-8 Tournament.

Elliott arrives in Lake County averaging a career-best 43.2 shots per nine holes.

Elliott's teammates include: freshman Maddy Pickersgill (56.9), senior Cassidy Verdi (60.0),

junior Kaitlyn Glynn (62.6) and sophomore Taylor Zack (63.0).

Thus far, 2012 has been a dazzling comeback for the Hernando Lady Leopards.

Two years ago, Hernando didn't have enough players to field a team. Last fall, Casey Ellis' crew finished 1-6, fifth out of five teams in the county meet and a distant fourth in districts.

A year later, Hernando placed third in the county meet and improved to second in 1A-8 to advance to regionals.

There's a 'Pinch me, is it really happening?' type of feel on the Bell Avenue campus.

"First of all, the credit belongs to the girls – they've done all the work," emphasized Coach Ellis. "You look at what's happened to us over the past couple years and it's kind of hard to believe. The biggest thing is you can't count us out."

After districts, the Lady Leopards mixed in a round of play in Lake County besides preparing for the homecoming football game against Springstead, and all the pomp and circumstance associated with the homecoming festivities and dance.

"It's been a crazy week," noted Ellis. "There's so much going on. Three of our girls went up there (Black Bear) to get an idea of the course. It's very hilly and very long compared to Rivard."

As far as Coach Ellis' expectations, even if the season concluded today, she'd be ecstatic.

"We have far exceeded our expectations. Come on, going from last to this has been a blast and it's not over," explained Ellis. "We're right on the cusp of accomplishing a dramatic turnaround. I'm really excited for the girls and I'm looking forward to Monday."

The Leopards will be represented in regionals by junior foreign exchange student Eugenia "Italy" Urso (44.6 average), freshman Lauren Moore (58.6), senior Alexis Owensby (59.5), junior Taylor Milligan (61.7) and senior Ainsley Halliday (66.8).

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